Blockchain for sustainable business: new technology & culture in sustainable enterprise management

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

As corporations have begun to understand the necessity of embedding sustainability into their core strategy and competencies it has become apparent that holistic management of operations must be done in an intentional and transparent way. It’s increasingly clear that all aspects of an organization – from product design, operations, marketing, HR & more – must collaborate transparently to effectively manage a sustainable enterprise and realize ROI from their initiatives. Companies can promote growth, reduce risk and increase returns though processes that provide clear, concise and trusted information across all departments.  

Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

There is no doubt that a robust technological management system is the backbone for implementing a holistic sustainability management program – a system which allows for transparency and trust across all departments. Many organizations are positioned to take advantage of cutting-edge technological systems to give them a sustainable competitive advantage – as long as there is a strong aligned company culture.

Enter Blockchain. Often when Blockchain is mentioned a reaction is one of eyes glazing over, a chuckle and some skepticism due to the mysterious, undoubtably complex connotations that surround this technology. This is understandable. Yet, the reality is that the concept of blockchain is relatively simple. Instead of a central authority verifying a transaction or data set, the verification is distributed and decentralized across a network. The verifications are on a ledger (think accounting), where changes and additions are append only – you can’t go back and change it. Therefore, the transactions become transparent, immutable and tamper proof. Implemented correctly, the potential applications spanning public and private sectors are almost categorically endless.

Has this created a hype bubble around blockchain? Undoubtably, yes. However, as the technology progresses and use cases and applications evolve, the hype around blockchain seems to be looking less like a bubble and more like a paradigm shift. With the possibility to make blockchains customizable – private, permissioned or public – companies can choose from an ever-growing panacea of platforms that can meet their needs. Additionally, companies must approach blockchain by first understanding the problem – then assessing why blockchain could be an effective solution. Just like any technology, blockchain is not a silver bullet solution. It must be asked – “Can this be solved by a traditional database, and does the need for transparency, decentralization, trust and immutability warrant a blockchain solution?”

While blockchain can incentivize effective management through transparency of operations, it is also essential that it be complimented by continuing to invest in human capital – the culture – of the company. Transparency can create accountability, competition and innovation – but the technology itself must not be the crutch. The culture and the affective commitment of the people in the organization will always be at the heart of a profitable, sustainable organization. While technology can be a powerful tool to implement solutions, the investment in human capital cannot be lost.

New technologies hold vast potential to disrupt and improve business and society – but without a mutually inclusive investment in culture any initiative will not reach its potential or may even cause inverse, negative externalities. When culture and values are complemented with decentralized, transparent technologies such blockchain, the future of managing successful sustainable enterprises holds immense potential.

A Very Special “Innovator-in-Residence:” Stuart Hart

This post was written by Esteban Echeverria ’19

It is May 8 — the last day of classes, and just like every three weeks or so, we have a speaker come to our class and talk to us for the whole morning. This time it is the one and only Professor Stuart Hart, and by now we should know him and his teachings pretty well.

Professor Stu Hart

For the ones who do not know, Dr. Hart is the backbone of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. His research, in conjunction with other experts in the field, such as C.K. Prahalad, and Dean Sanjay Sharma, provide much of the material we study in our classes.

As we know Dr. Hart quite well by now, he decided to base his lecture on where we are now as a society, and where we are headed in the future, as well as some of his current research. After some 500 years of history, he explained the many phases of the most important economic systems the world has been going through— feudalism, mercantilism, industrial capitalism, institutional capitalism, financial capitalism. He finally mentioned the next phase that we are transitioning to— what he called the new sustainable capitalism. Each of phases have been going through a cycle of power and economic distribution that repeats itself, were we keep making the same mistakes, falling on the same bumps, and ending up in the same place, which is not exactly a good one.

We are now in a moment in history haunted by a severe climate crisis, as well as a social one, where inequality is hitting major milestones that are getting close to the point of no return. It is a point where the Milton Freedman’s “increase of shareholder value” corporate objectives, as well as the concept of tying the payment of chief executives and senior leaders to performance, are to be reviewed and thought over. 

It not only has led to multinational corporations practicing stock buyback and cut R&D spending as well as operational spending including employee pay, among other strategies to raise the prices of their own stocks, but also focus on quarterly earnings reports and quick fixes to their unsustainable models. The pressure of investors, analysts, and high frequency traders has let these companies forget about the long-term strategies required to sustain their operations, as well as promote the wellbeing of their stakeholders. Shareholder primacy, as noted in the past, is not a legal obligation, but the system as of now is fixed for this purpose. 

One of the objectives of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is to create the new generation of businessmen and businesswomen determined to go about their decision making process taking not only financial, but also environmental and social aspects into account. As a student of this program, and part of this community, I would also like to act as a sustainability enabler, by attempting to contribute to corporate transformation from the inside out. Many of these public multinational corporations need to recognize their identity, strengths, and reason of existence, and use it as a tool to transform and modernize their operations and value propositions to ones that contribute to the wellbeing of the environment and society. By doing so, they secure their long term operations for the future.

Now that we have finished the lecture portion of this program, I am a step closer to become part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA alumni community, the one that is building the business leaders that the world needs. I recommend this experience to anyone that is trying to make an impact, and be part of the transformation we are going through.

Renewed — and Renewable — Hope

This post was written by Noelle Nyirenda ’19

Row upon row of solar panels reflect the Zambian sky while they silently and cleanly produce enough electricity to power over fifty thousand homes. Walking the solar plant that covers almost 50 hectares in the special economic zone outside the capital city, I am exhausted but filled with hope. Renewable energy is no longer a niche technology that “serious” business people don’t even consider but the preferred source of electrical energy for most countries.

I am at the Bangweulu Solar plant where I have been contracted as the commissioning engineer to ensure that the project can be handed over to the client and be ready to be brought online at an inauguration ceremony that will be attended by the president, US ambassador and other dignitaries.

This is grueling work, and the timeline is stressful, I only had four hours of sleep after flying in from Vermont before I had to be onsite for a planning meeting and hit the ground running. However, I know that this project marks a significant time for me and the company I am working worth. This project is about more than handing over yet another installation successfully to our client, it’s about capacity building and developing skills to make Zambia’s energy infrastructure more sustainable. The Bangweulu project was made possible by a financing structure that brought development partners and private business together.

This belief in the idea that value can be created at the confluence of social development and business enterprise is what brought me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM.

Ecosystem Services: The Unsung Hero of the Natural World

This post was written by Robert Hacker ’18

Do you ever find yourself enjoying a glass of water, a meal, or maybe even breathing fresh air?

If you answered yes to any of the three activities above, then you may want to thank ecosystem services.

A service is the action of helping or doing work for someone.

An ecosystem is a community of interacting organisms and their environment.

Therefore, an ecosystem service can be described as a community of interacting organisms and their environment that helps to get work done. There are four categories of ecosystem services which are provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services.

I will begin by explaining provisioning services. These services provide a benefit that humans extract from nature such as water, timber, fossil fuels, food and medicine. All of the provisioning services are essential for the survival of human populations and will see negative impacts as a result of climate change.

Next, regulating services provide benefits as a result of an ecosystem process that moderates a natural phenomenon. Some examples are water filtration/purification, pollination, decomposition and carbon storage. Humans have been altering the rates at which these ecosystems are able to operate, therefore increasing the rate of climate change and natural resource depletion.

Third, cultural services are non-material benefits that contribute to the development of people. Some examples include nature-based art, tourism, and recreation. Many indigenous communities have lost these services due to environmental degradation, or development of their once sacred land. Also threatened are many of the outdoor activities all people enjoy such as hiking, swimming or even skiing!

The final type of ecosystem services is supporting services and are classified as a benefit from an ecosystem process that moderates a natural phenomenon. These are arguably the most important because all life could not survive with-out them. Supporting services include photosynthesis, nutrient cycling and soil formation. The second two along with many other services have been altered and degraded since the industrial revolution.

All of these types of services are essential to the survival of human life as we currently know it. Climate change poses a threat to these important services that humans and all other species depend on. We need to begin to take care of our home, Earth!

Third Base of the Pyramid Global Network Summit, April 18-20, New Delhi, India

Editor’s Note: Professor Stuart Hart, director of external relations and practicums for The Sustainable Innovation MBA, is — in addition to being recognized as a global authority on business strategy and its implications for addressing poverty, founder of the Enterprise for a Sustainable World, which hosts the Base of the Pyramid Global Network Summit.

In 2015, The University of Vermont (UVM)’s Grossman School of Business hosted the 2nd BoP Global Network Summit: “Sustainable Entrepreneurship From The Bottom Up”. We brought together corporate innovators, academics, entrepreneurs, community leaders, students, and BoP Global Lab leaders from more than 16 countries – all on campus at UVM.

This year, Professor Stuart Hart and friends are organizing the Third BoP Global Network Summit April 18 – 20, 2018 at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, India.

The 2018 Summit will include a field visit to initiatives to experience first-hand some of the leading-edge Base of the Pyramid (BoP) business initiatives in India. The field visit will serve to stimulate discussion and action during the Summit itself.

Companies and ventures cannot succeed at the BoP in isolation. It is in the strength of a strong and mutually aligned network and partner ecosystem including academia, government, development agencies, local entrepreneurs, and NGOs, that business will find the keys to success.

The 2018 BoP Global Network Summit will be focused around three such emerging strategies to more effectively reach and serve the Base of the Pyramid.

The three strategies are:

1) Beyond Environmental Degradation: Toward BoP Circular Economy Strategies

Most BoP ventures and initiatives have focused on the social aspects of sustainability while ignoring or deemphasizing the environment. Looking forward, disruptive new “leapfrog” BoP strategies may hold the key to pioneering a truly sustainable, circular economy.

2) Beyond Pipelines: Toward BoP Platform Engagement Strategies

Most BoP ventures and initiatives have focused on building single­ purpose supply chains and distribution models (pipelines), often with disappointing financial results. Looking forward, platform-based approaches, both cloud enabled and otherwise, may hold a key to building wider and a deeper value.

3) Beyond Selling to The Poor: Toward BoP Market Engagement Strategies

Most BoP ventures and initiatives have focused on developing low cost, “affordable” products and services, only to have them languish. Looking forward developing diverse and creative strategies for engagement and co creation may hold a key to successfully reaching and serving the BoP.

All three strategies hinge on creative ways to build more effective ecosystems and networks.

The objectives of the Summit are to explore the frontiers of these emerging strategies through plenary sessions featuring state-of-the art practice, followed by working sessions to build and accelerate momentum toward making them a reality.

Keynote speakers include Jonathon Porritt – the co-founder of Forum for the Future and Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce and Industry, India, and many more.

See the full speaker line-up here. Sign up here.

Professor Hart’s video here.

An MBA Finds Cold Comfort In Solving A Nation’s Food Waste

This article was written by Taylor Ralph ’17 and originally appeared at GreenBiz.com. Taylor is currently an Agricultural Supply Chains Consultant at SSG Advisors.

 

This spring, a global manufacturer of industrial refrigeration equipment asked me and another MBA candidate — eager, passionate students with a slew of newly minted sustainable business pedagogies in our quiver — to explore emerging market opportunities that also tackled global social and environmental issues. Our project was a result of the company’s strategic focus on tackling major world issues that go beyond eco-efficiency, such as food loss.

Sellers at a warehouse in São Paulo, Brazil, unload a truck of unrefrigerated watermelons.

My classmate Brett Spusta and I began the project with two parameters: we’d be exploring the issue of food loss and we’d be doing so in Brazil. Beyond that, it was up to us to narrow the scope of our research, develop a team of research partners on the ground, ask the right questions and formulate strategies that could produce cold chain innovation, create meaningful social and environmental impact and be scaled.

It was an MBA student’s dream come true.

What began as a cumbersome undertaking crystallized into a specific, surprising and insightful set of actionable recommendations tailored to Brazil’s unique market.

Continue reading “An MBA Finds Cold Comfort In Solving A Nation’s Food Waste”

National Climate Economy Summit Comes to UVM

This post was written by Sam Carey, Sustainable Innovation MBA ’18

Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and folks from around the United States interested in a transformation of the economy gathered at the University of Vermont September 6 – 8 for the Catalysts of the Climate Economy National Innovation Summit.  Students from The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 took a break from the classroom to attend the conference, and network with climate economy thinkers, innovators, and business leaders.

The Summit was sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Presentations and sessions highlighted the work of entrepreneurs, leaders, and visionaries who view climate change as an enormous business and economic development opportunity.  The conference focused on what is currently being done, inherent challenges, and ways to meet ambitious targets.  For example, Vermont has been working towards 90 percent renewable energy by 2050; meanwhile California is pushing for total electrification and complete clean energy by 2030.

The climate economy conference kicked off Wednesday evening with a keynote speech by noted entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken, who presented a comprehensive new approach to reversing climate change, central to his new book Drawdown.  

Continue reading “National Climate Economy Summit Comes to UVM”

UVM Rated A Top Green University by Princeton Review

From the Editors

The University of Vermont is one of only 24 universities nationwide to make the Princeton Review’s “Green Rating Honor Roll” in recognition of sustainability-related practices, policies and academic offerings. From the University’s press release:

“The schools on our Green Rating Honor Roll demonstrated a truly exceptional commitment to sustainability across critical areas we looked at — from course offerings and recycling programs to plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Robert Franek, the Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief. “We salute their administrators, faculty and students for their collective efforts to protect and preserve our environment.”

Franek noted the increasing interest among students in attending “green” colleges. Among nearly 10,500 college applicants the Princeton Review surveyed in 2017 for its College Hopes & Worries Survey, 64 percent said having information about a college’s commitment to the environment would impact their decision to apply to or attend a school.

“UVM’s Green Rating scores show the results of our individual and collective decisions to live more sustainably,” Gioia Thompson, UVM’s director of the office of sustainability, said. “The interviews of students show how strongly students identify UVM as a place where people act in support of sustainability locally and globally.”

“UVM’s status as a green school is a core part of our identity and definitely contributes to our appeal for prospective students,” said Stacey Kostell, vice president for enrollment management. “The Princeton Review Honor Roll designation is a confirmation of what those of us who are part of the university see every day.”

Continue reading “UVM Rated A Top Green University by Princeton Review”

From the Web: The World’s First Multi-Turbine Tidal Energy Field

Tidal Energy Company Atlantis is the largest of its kind in Europe. And right now it is focusing on completing a four phased MeyGen Tidal Energy Project in coasts of Scotland. The project is one of a kind Multi Turbine Tidal Energy field that will be powering nearly 175,000 Scotland houses after its completion. Right now the project is in the first phase of its development but it has already received a funding of €37 million from EU for its second phase.

Learn more (via Green Diary) >>

From the Web: No more business as usual: the corporates stepping up to save the planet

When the US president, Donald Trump, announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, one might have anticipated a hearty cheer from industry around the world relieved that business as usual could continue.

Instead the opposite has happened. Across the United States, the business community is taking it upon itself to implement the measures needed to address climate change. And in Australia an increasing number of major companies are publicly stating their commitment to addressing climate change, even as the federal government drags its heels on implementing policies to address the crisis. Companies around the world – from small family-run enterprises to Fortune 500 firms – are not only calling for action on climate change but also putting their money where their mouth is.

Lou Leonard, the senior vice president of climate change and energy at WWF, says companies are coming to understand the impact of climate change on their businesses.

“If you’re a company that either grows food in the heartland of the United States or ships it down the Mississippi and out to other countries, or you’re a company that builds the components of wind turbines and solar panels, or you’re a company that has a big retail footprint all over the world, climate change has come to you already,” he says. “I think that the understanding of those impacts has led those companies to again take action to begin to green their own footprint, and their supply chains.”

This understanding has also led to initiatives such as We Are Still In, an open declaration of continued support of climate action to meet the Paris agreement. The letter has now been signed by 1,565 companies and investors, including giants such as Apple, Walmart, Microsoft, Adidas, Facebook and Google, as well as leaders from 208 cities and counties, nine US states and 309 colleges and universities.

Learn more (via The Guardian) >>